Lexington Catholic will be the toast of the town when it comes to girls' soccer in the city, at least as far as the eight coaches are concerned.
On its heels is Henry Clay, which ousted the Lady Knights in last season's 11th Region Tournament. Then Paul Laurence Dunbar beat the Blue Devils for the region crown.
That trio again figures to be in the running for a state championship berth.
A robust senior class has LexCath poised to make a run. Alana Hughes, Katie Hurt and Rachel Yeager highlight the midfield while Maddie Haynes and Claire Wilhite bring strength to the backline. Kennedy Tranter, a sophomore who has already committed to the University of Kentucky, gives spark to the Lady Knights' offense.
Henry Clay is thought highly of despite graduating 11 players from its region finalist team. Coach Mebit Aragaw said it's too early to tell what his teams strengths and weaknesses will be, but leadership from seniors Grace Whalen, Brett Edwards and Caroline Totty has been big.
"We will use the earlier season games to find out the best chemistry and formations," Aragaw said. The Blue Devils opened the season 1-2 in last week's Fayette County Soccer Spectacular.
Dunbar, which went 2-1 and reached the semifinals of the same event, also lost its share of seniors who played key minutes. Thomas Morgan thinks his team's abundant youth coupled with some returning varsity players — Sloan Cromwell, Mallory Englehard, Morgan Green and Mimi Floreal, to name a few — will produce a fun year both against opponents and against one another in battles for playing time.
"These younger players recognize an opportunity to start on varsity and are hungry for those positions," Morgan said, "which is driving everyone to elevate their play."
Elsewhere in the city
Tates Creek, the most recent Lexington team to win a state title (2012), had a down year but Coach Bo Lankster has a group that's "determined to push themselves to a higher level this season."
Jensen Butler, Makayla Shearer and Mallory Shake will have to gel but will constitute a strong defensive unit for the Commodores if they do. Newcomer Isabella Verones adds some offensive punch to a group that includes junior Haley Poynter and seniors Sophia Daniel and Ally Poage.
"No one was satisfied with the way last season ended," Lankster said, "and it has served as motivation through the offseason and preseason.'
He said Creek's goal is to be "solidly in the mix" for an 11th Region berth this year. "Anything can happen from there," he said.
Coach Steve Fugmann believes Lexington Christian's strength this season will be its flexibility. Returnees like Maddie Stanback, Peyton Nagle, Brooke Tackett and Rebecca Dobbs are capable of playing multiple positions — an upside given the team's shallow roster.
"We just don't have the numbers that some big schools have," Fugmann said. "However, we are used to that and actually look forward to that challenge."
Sayre has several incoming freshmen and sophomores whom Coach Michael McKinney believes will fill a void left by key graduates.
Kate Johnson, Ellie Bernard, Hannah Brady and Audrey Fowler are strong seniors expected to contribute more for the Spartans this season. McKinney thinks the group as a whole is more technically sound than last year.
The loss of returning junior Emilie Yates to an ACL tear in the spring dampened Bryan Station's outlook for 2015, but Coach Dan Hacker believes his team will still be much improved from last year.
Key to that improvement will be the continued development of Molly Marchaterre (jr. defender), Emma Hacker (jr. midfielder), Simone Bibbs (so. forward) and Katelyn Gentry (so. goalkeeper). Hacker said sophomores Zephany Rushin and Cassandra Hacker, as well as freshman Avery Siria, should bolster the Defenders.
Lafayette Coach Bryson Perry anticipates his youthful squad to takes its lumps but hopes to field a competitive group by year's end. Saydie Matthews (sr. forward), Jessica Daniel (jr. midfielder), Ashley Linden (so. midfielder) and Bailey Harrod (so. midfielder) are the Generals' key returnees.